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Goldsmiths and MI5- Trying to access the archives

The headquarters of the current Security Service, MI5 at Thames House on the north side of the River Thames. Image: MI5 Thames House Image Gallery, (OGL v1.0).

The Goldsmiths’ History Project becomes the subject of a freedom of information battle this week.

The Information Tribunal First Tier in London is hearing an appeal by Goldsmiths’ historian Professor Tim Crook on his application for MI5/Security Service files kept on staff and students before 1989.

This will take place in Court 7 Field House, 15-25 Breams Buildings
London, EC4A 1DZ starting on Wednesday 10th July at 10 a.m.

The Tribunal has allocated two days to the case.

There are significant events in the history of the staff and students where the perception of political extremism and actions may well have attracted the engagement and interest of the Security Service otherwise known as MI5.

The Communist cell forcing a Warden’s resignation

Cover of “Golden Sunrise’- Sir Ross Chesterman’s memoirs.

In his candid memoir ‘Golden Sunrise: The Story of Goldsmiths’ College 1953-1974’, the fifth Warden (or Chief Executive), Sir Ross Chesterman, wrote that on his appointment in 1953 he learned that:

…the Communist Party had succeeded in establishing a cell in the College – a collection of about half a dozen men and women dedicated to the communist cause, and prepared to further their way by all kinds of obstructive actions. […] The communists were so well organized that they had managed to dislodge the previous Warden who, realizing that he was defeated, had resigned his post, taken Holy Orders and had gone to run a small North of English Church College.

He reported that Metropolitan Police Special Branch were visitors to the College ‘collecting information about left-wing activities.’

It is a fact that the previous Warden, Mr. Aubrey Price, did resign one year before the completion of his first four-year term.

His resignation was received with great regret by the University of London Goldsmiths’ College Delegacy.

Although submitted to the agenda and identified as part of the minutes of the relevant Delegacy meeting, his resignation letter has been removed from the College archives.

The student union President who went to Moscow

Sir Ross Chesterman, Warden of Goldsmiths’ College 1953 to 1974. Image: Goldsmiths Archives

Sir Ross Chesterman further writes about a President of the Goldsmiths’ College Student Union in 1952-3 ‘with very pronounced left-wing views’ who embezzled several hundred pounds from student union funds to finance his expensive trips to Moscow, Russia and other Soviet controlled Warsaw Pact countries.

In a remarkable account Sir Ross describes choosing not to prosecute the Student Union President in return for his paying off the debt over many years.

The individual given the pseudonym ‘Fred Soames’ was in all probability the late Clifford Peter Faith whose visits to Russia and Moscow led to regular cultural and educational delegations visiting the College during the height of the Cold War and being awarded the special Soviet emblem of ‘the best college in English Universities.’

Clifford Peter Faith’s report on a violent incident he witnessed behind the Iron Curtain for Goldsmiths’ College magazine in 1953.

Extremist students supporting fascism and terrorism

The College archives disclose texts and articles that caused distress and consternation at the time of their publication.

Virulently anti-Semitic and misogynistic propaganda was signed off as ‘The Fascist’ during the early 1930s.

Another student gave himself the moniker ‘Nationalist’ when justifying the deadly terrorist bombing of Coventry and other places in Britain in 1939 and early 1940.

CND, Vietnam and the 1960s

College students and staff played key roles during the 1960s in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, the violent protests against the Vietnam War in London in 1968.

Bertrand Russell (centre), alongside his wife Edith and Ralph Schoenman with Michael Randle (second left), leading an anti-nuclear march in London, 18 February 1961. Image: Tony French CC BY-SA 3.0

The Student weekly newspaper Smith News ran the story in 1969 that Metropolitan Police Special Branch had been given access to student files. The decision and debate arising were highly controversial matters for both students and staff.

Government agents posing as students

The current Mitting Inquiry into undercover policing has received evidence from a Goldsmiths trainee teacher student at the College between 1972 and 1975 in which she sets out her experience of being deceived into an intimate relationship by a police officer posing as a student activist.

While the connection here is with the activities of the police ‘Special Demonstration Squad’ the statement of the anonymized ‘Mary’ raises the acute public interest issue of disproportionate methods being deployed by the state to gather information on activities which are on the borderline of political activism and political subversion and a threat to national security.

What are the connections with MI5 and files collected and kept on Goldsmiths student and staff activists?

A further statement to the inquiry by Tamsin Allen of Bindmans LLP contains multiple references to another political activist student at the College during this time, Richard Chessum, making allegations about the same undercover police officer with the cover name Rick Gibson having intimate relationships with other Goldsmiths’ College students while investigating political activism.

Goldsmiths- the happy home of the Communist Party of Great Britain?

University of London, Goldsmiths’ College seems to have been the spiritual and ideological home of the London District of the Communist Party of Great Britain- the largest and most influential part of the CPGB.

The annual congresses of the London District were regularly held at Goldsmiths by the invitation of the student union throughout the twentieth century up until at least 1982.

Karl Marx’s grave in Highgate Cemetery. Image: Paasikivi. CC BY-SA 4.0

This was at a time when the Communist Party of Great Britain had always been the subject of surveillance by the Security Service.

The CPGB was a political organisation committed to supporting revolutionary action to achieve its political objectives and the recipient of financial support from the Soviet Union.

The College archives reveal that in 1953, the College had the distinction of hosting both a left-wing Socialist Society and a separate Communist Society run by the students and supported by members of staff.

The legal issues

Professor Crook’s appeal is being opposed by both the Office of the Information Commissioner and the Home Office.

They argue that the Security Service/MI5 is not subject to FOI law and any information relating to security bodies has absolute exemption status on a neither confirm/nor deny basis.

They also say the Home Office has never been responsible for MI5 archives and information.

In short as they did not hold the information requested, the appeal must fail.

Professor Crook’s position is that MI5 was the responsibility of the Home Office before the Security Service Act 1989.

He submits that a ruling by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg, Magyar Helsinki v Hungary 2016, gives him a standing right to public interest information for historical research purposes.

The Home Office is going to be represented by counsel to oppose his appeal.

The hearing is open to the public.

The appeal is a test case challenging the absolute exemption blocking historical researchers from requests for files and information held by the intelligence agencies relating to people and events more than 30 years ago.

If Professor Crook is successful in persuading the Tribunal that MI5 was the constitutional and legal responsibility of the Home Office before 1989, this could open a gateway for FOI applications for historians in this area.

The appeal is supported by the Chartered Institute of Journalists, which has campaigned for FOI access to the historical files of the intelligence agencies where there is no risk to the interests of national security.

Update 23rd July 2019

Judge Alexandra Marks CBE ruled Friday 19th July that the Home Office did not hold the information at the time Professor Crook made his FOI request and dismissed his appeal.

In her ruling Judge Marks observed that Professor Crook submitted at the hearing:

  1. The Security Service Act did not reform MI5 but transformed it (from an executive function of the Home Office (HO) to a separate statutory body). Though MI5 was not ‘part of’ the HO, it was ‘of’ the HO.
  2. HO is the responsible state government body that should provide access to the information requested.
  3. Because of the public interest of his academic historical research project, the ‘standing information right’ determined by Magyar fits this case ‘like a glove’.
  4. The Tribunal has the opportunity – for the first time – to decide that Article 10 rights apply to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). The ‘parallel’ route – namely seeking information from a public body under the common law and, if access to such information is denied, applying for judicial review – is neither preferable nor necessary. It is also a burdensomely expensive course for an academic historian;
  5. HO’s position of ‘closing the gate’ to FOIA by saying it does not hold the information is not sustainable after Magyar. That case changed the jurisprudential environment by recognising a standing right to state information, thus serving democratic accountability and academic research.

The Tribunal rejected all of Professor Crook’s grounds of appeal. It decided that as the Home Office did not legally hold the information at the time the request was made, the Article 10 issues did not arise.

Professor Crook says: ‘Journalists and academic researchers in Britain should have been given freedom of information access rights to state information as a result of the ECtHR Grand Chamber ruling in 2016.

Yet, the UK Freedom of Information legal regime has very little to do with providing actual freedom to information.

I’m wanting access to historical information that is more than 30 years’ old and is not likely to pose any threat to national security.’

The decision of the Information Tribunal is downloadable on the link below:

016 190719 DECISION

Update 21st August 2019

An application for leave to appeal to the Upper Tribunal was made to Judge Alexandra Marks.

Professor Tim Crook argued:

1. The decision on 19th July in EA/2019/0073 means that the current UK legal FOI regime does not provide the applicant with Article 10 freedom of expression rights to access state archives for the purposes of public interest/watchdog historical research when no other human rights are being breached.

This is a denial of remedy under Article 13 of the Human Rights Act and European Convention of Human Rights particularly as the Grand Chamber Ruling in Magyar Helsinki v Hungary 2016 establishes this qualified standing right for the applicant as a matter of jurisprudential principle.

The FOIA is therefore incompatible with Articles 10 and 13 in respect of ECtHR jurisprudence.

The applicant believes the historical information being sought is being physically and/or virtually held by the UK’s Security Service; otherwise known as MI5 which according to section 1 of the Security Service Act 1989 operates ‘under the authority of the Secretary of State’ for the Home Office.

Section 23(3)(a) of FOIA prevents the applicant making any application directly to the present manifestation of the Security Service as constituted by the SSA. As the Security Service operates under the authority of the Home Secretary whose government department is the Home Office, the applicant believed the Home Office was the relevant authority to apply for the information.

The applicant argued that on the balance of probabilities there was evidence in law that prior to the Security Service Act 1989, the Security Service was a covert executive body operating as part of the Home Office and this position further justified the relevance of making the FOI application to the Home Office; particularly as all the information sought related to matters and people occurring before 1989.

By ruling against the applicant’s contention that he had the gateway sought via Section 3(2)(b) of FOIA, he has no remedy available to him to achieve a proper consideration of his Article 10 right to state information for public interest/watchdog historical research purposes.

He argues that the interference with the applicant’s freedom of expression rights was not “necessary in a democratic society,” and there was no “pressing social need” for such abrogation.

In conclusion, the applicant therefore submits that under Human Rights Law, he is entitled to proper consideration of his request for access to the historical information being held.

2. The applicant argues that there is a point of law of general importance about whether on the balance of probabilities he should be denied the engagement of Article 10 rights because the State government body applied to ‘did not hold’ the information sought when it was applied for.

3. The applicant argues that on the balance of probabilities he did demonstrate in law that the information requested was held by a security service under the legal constitutional and executive control of the Home Office and the Secretary of State for that government department e.g the Home Secretary.

On 20th August 2019 Judge Marks CBE refused leave to appeal and her decision is downloadable on the link below.

019 200819 PTA Ruling

Forthcoming ‘That’s So Goldsmiths’- an investigative history of Goldsmiths, University of London by Professor Tim Crook.


Goldsmiths students misbehavin’ – College rules and what happened to those who broke them.

These male seniors of 1908 were labelled ‘The Not Innocents.’ We have no information about why they earned this nickname. Image: Goldsmiths College archives.

Is there a spirit connected with being a Goldsmiths’ student that is somewhat distinctive, radical, questioning, and protesting?

Beyond any desire to ‘brand’ and make distinctive something about Goldsmiths, it is a question with no easy answer.

It might be foolish to generalise. In the photograph above these are men behaving badly for a brief moment: sticking their tongues out, pulling rude faces, making somewhat impolite gestures with their hands, and in one case smoking a cigarette and pipe at the same time.

But there are events and evidence of a tradition that could suggest something.

The Warden, Ross Chesterman (1953-74) recalled deciding to ring up the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Robert Mark, in the late 1960s when some of ‘our students occasionally got into mild trouble with the police, usually because of demonstrations.’

Mark had a fearsome reputation. The local police commander was certainly in fear of him: ‘When the Commissioner Mr Mark says jump, you don’t think about it or argue, you bloody well jump!’

Ross recalled:

I told him that most of my students were law-abiding and moreover interested in helping others less well-off than themselves. Our talking, conducted at a pleasant conversational level, went on for more than half an hour and I like to feel that I may have helped a little to liberalise the police force.

The senior men students of Goldsmiths’ College in 1908. They were known as the ‘the Dears!’ We have no idea why they earned this nickname; particularly when there are at least two pairs of the young men actually, or pretending to beat each other up while the photograph is being taken. Image: Goldsmiths College Archive.

One wonders whether one of Ross Chesterman’s predecessor Wardens, Tommy Raymont, had a similar chat with the then Commissioner when Goldsmiths’ students were arrested for being somewhat over-boisterous with the College’s donkey outside New Cross Gate station in 1926.

There had been a procession of one hundred Goldsmiths’ students ‘led by a young man in particularly wide Oxford bags and wearing a long black coat’ which surrounded police officers on traffic duty with the chant of ‘ring-a-ring-of-roses.’

This was accompanied by the loud and aggressive rattling of collection tins.

The College donkey played a major part in the procession straddled ‘by a weirdly dressed figure’ quite possibly one of the students.

Goldsmiths’ College rag students were the Millwall soccer supporters of the university rag world.

The local community lived in fear of impromptu false imprisonment on Lewisham Way or the New Cross Road during rag week.

The College’s first history, The Forge, recorded the origin of the donkey:

It was on the ostensible ground of economy that in May 1920, a donkey was purchased to replace a horse for the roller on the playing field.

The notoriety of the Goldsmiths’ rags continued until 1930.

How the College donkey of 1920 to 1930 may have looked. Much loved by the students and used as a mascot in raucous student ‘rag’ stunts to raise money for charity. Image: Tim Crook.

The third Warden, Arthur Edis Dean, decided enough was enough when an entire tram of passengers had been captured by a ring of students outside the College main building while the College song was being sung at morning assembly.

The incident was followed by the students bursting into the Great hall with their ill-gotten gains and the over-excited donkey during the National Anthem.

Warden Ross Chesterman’s philosophy was conveyed to the College’s freshers in the Great Hall in October 1966 with the exhortation:

Students should divide their time into three segments: one third should be spent working, one third should be spent sleeping, and one third spent enjoying yourself.

An examination of the College’s picture archives has plenty of evidence that one third enjoyment is something that has been taken to heart rather enthusiastically throughout the generations.

When the college had its own swimming pool, and before it was burnt down by Second World War Luftwaffe bombing, these members of the College Water Polo team certainly showed every sign of enjoying themselves.

But I do wonder if their group hug was a way of dealing with the damp cold of a Deptford winter.

They do look a bit desperate.

It can’t have been much fun walking barefoot on that stone grit scattered over the pathway.

The player in swimming costume top right appears to be grimacing rather than smiling, and I do wonder if he was thinking ‘when is this photographer going to press his flash gun so I can get back inside and warm myself against a radiator?’

Goldsmiths College Water Polo team 1911. Image: Goldsmiths College Archives.

When you next walk through the corridor entrance of the Richard Hoggart main building  just imagine the shenanigans of the College rugby team ‘messing about’ during this photo-shoot in 1910.

In this picture consider all the characters, attitudes, emotions, feelings and relationships.

The central player balancing the rugby ball on his friend’s head below, with his legs around his friend’s shoulders, and peering over the tip of his fingers so only his squinting eyes and forehead can be seen. And then there’s the player leaning forward over the top of his head and scrunching onto his hair as if he were holding onto a pair of goat’s horns!

Goldsmiths’ College rugby first XV of 1910. Image: Goldsmiths College Archives.

So far it’s been all men looking naughty and mischievous.

Well the women during this time had their own way of showing how smart and quick of wit they were.

The ‘Swanky Swotters’ of 1910 you would not want to be pitched against in an Edwardian University Challenge, or indeed a pub quiz game at the Rosemary Branch or Marquis of Granby.

Group of women students at Goldsmiths’ College in 1910 who called themselves the ‘Swanky Swotters.’ Image: Goldsmiths College Archives.

And as for dancing, you do get the impression that these Eurythmics during the time of King George V could jive and boogie off the dance floor any rapper or disco break-dancer of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Eurythmics dance class at Goldsmiths’s College circa 1916-18. Image: Goldsmiths College Archives.

By 1916-18, Eurythmics were central to the curriculum. The College was dealing with the darker times of the Great War. Women students dominated the student cohort and were coming to terms with continual reports of student and staff casualties from the Front.

It is understood Goldsmiths’ was one of the first British colleges to pioneer this expressive movement art which became quite popular during the early part of the 20th century. It was primarily a performance art, and students were encouraged to develop a movement repertoire relating to the sounds and rhythms of speech, to the tones and rhythms of music, and to ‘soul experiences’, such as joy and sorrow.

Goldsmiths’ Eurythmics of 1916-18. Image: Goldsmiths College Archives. Note the fair amount of photo-bombing faces of people peering through the windows.

Rest assured Goldsmiths’ women students knew their steps and moves, and were ready for anything as this photograph of a physical education class from 1907 undoubtedly confirms.

Women students in physical education in the College gymnasium in 1907. Image: Goldsmiths College Archives.

It is not generally known that up until the early 1930s, Goldsmiths’ College students were issued with a student handbook in which they were instructed on rules of gender segregation and strict behavioural standards.

Student handbook for 1914-15. Image: Goldsmiths College Archives.

To begin with the first floor was out of bounds.  It was exclusively reserved for the staff, apart from the gymnasium gallery- what is now the part of the first floor of the refectory.

Men could only use the western corridor and women could only use the eastern corridor. Yes, they had separate entrances.

Men and women even dined at different times. Women had the first luncheon at 12.15, and the men with two sittings afterwards. For some reason the rulebook states categorically that ‘Women students may not absent themselves from dinner without permission.’

No such stricture applies to the men.

Men had priority over the main lower playing field for cricket and soccer. Women had the upper and smaller playing field. Each had different pavilions. The men’s was bigger. Neither could be seen using each other’s.

The men and women students had separate common rooms.  Men could smoke in their common room.

Nothing was said about whether women could smoke in theirs. So perhaps they did!

The enforcers were a cadre of awesome looking Goldsmiths’ students recruited as prefects.

Consider this delightful selection of rule enforcers for the academic year 1908-9.

Goldsmiths’ College prefects 1908-9. Image: Goldsmiths College Archives.

The young woman sitting far left in the front row has a very disapproving face. You can almost hear her saying: ‘Crook, not you again!’

The young man standing far right does not look like he has much tolerance for slackness and lack of discipline. Such an attitude appears to be held by his compatriot standing bold and upright on the other side holding his hands behind his back.

And the young woman sitting far right might be wearing an expression of grave disappointment in the human race.

There was more discrimination in the ‘in bed’ and ‘lights out’ rules.

Men had to be in their hostels by 10 p.m., but for some reason women had to be confined two hours earlier at 8 p.m.

Landladies and landlords of private lodgings were contractually obliged to report the comings and goings of Goldsmiths’ students according to this timetable. And no early morning jaunts before 6 a.m. though it seemed to be accepted that there did not appear to be any need for gender differentiation for the early morning stricture.

The view from the women’s Upper Playing Field- smaller than the men’s lower playing field which had the bigger pavilion (seen with the clock on the right) and soccer and cricket facilities. The position of the women’s playing field is now occupied by the Professor Stuart Hall Building and tennis courts.  Image: Goldsmiths College Archives.

It has to be said that where there are rules, there are rule-breakers and you do get the impression from this jaunty and riotous image of ‘Dan Leno’s troupe’ from 1909, that the students of yesteryear had their own ways of living and breathing the necessary freedoms to develop as young adults in the early part of the twentieth century, without being caught by the formidable prefects.

Goldsmiths’ College senior men students in 1909 not taking very seriously an occasion for official photography. Image: Goldsmiths’ College Archives.

Rules for Goldsmiths’ students from the Handbook 1914-15

Image: Goldsmiths College Archives.

When the College started in the autumn of 1905, the staff recorded their evaluation of the first students in very precise minutes.

The general view was not particularly optimistic. In November the science lecturers reported that their students were: ‘All quite ignorant.’

Miss Strudwick was concerned that: ‘they express themselves badly and are very inaccurate.’

In history the lecturer Miss Spalding despaired: ‘very unintelligent, unable to take proper notes, and very ignorant of present conditions.’

There was concern about the students’ lack of punctuality which was not helped by the College clocks showing different times.

It was suggested that lecturers ‘close doors occasionally and reckon all excluded students as late.’

On the subject of homework, the students were complaining of being over-worked.

The minutes state: ‘The Vice-Principals think there is overwork in the case of the more stupid students.’

Pages 6-7

Image: Goldsmiths College Archives.

There is not much evidence of punishment and sanctions being applied to Goldsmiths students in the early decades of the College’s existence.

It is possible that any documents relating to most disciplinary processes may well have been destroyed.

But just occasionally it is possible to identify traces of action being taken to terminate a student’s participation.

For example, Goldsmiths’ College Delegacy minutes for the University of London disclose that in 1923-4, ‘Two men students have been dismissed in consequences of grave misdemeanour since the opening of the session. One woman student returned in January to complete her interrupted course.’

In December 1924 there is a very sad record of the College reporting that a trainee teacher had to be dismissed after suffering ‘seizures’ while at the college.

The indication is that the student concerned was epileptic.

It transpired that when the college’s medical officer checked with his general practitioner, the student had concealed his condition when applying for a grant.

It was a reflection of the prejudiced values of the time that the minutes declare he: ‘…was not, therefore, a suitable person to be trained as a teacher.’

Those records that have survived ask many more questions than they answer about students whose unusual lifestyle did not necessarily conform to the norms of the time.

Certainly more research is going to be undertaken in respect of a named student whose dismissal was recorded in February 1922:

The Warden stated that an ex-service student of the training department had been under suspicion of leading an irregular mode of life for some time; that after this was proved to be the case, and after having obtained the sanction of the Board of Education, he had dismissed him, acting on behalf of the delegacy, on the ground that he was not a proper person to be enrolled as a certificated teacher.

In 2018 we want to know what was meant by ‘irregular mode of life’ in 1922, what was the nature of the ‘suspicion’ and whether it were possible to find out how the student had been judged as ‘not a proper person’ to be working as a teacher.

Pages 8-9

Image: Goldsmiths College Archives.

That’s So Goldsmiths– a forthcoming history of the university is being researched and written by Professor Tim Crook.

Goldsmiths, Art and Winston Churchill


Parliament Square statue of Sir Winston Churchill by Goldsmiths College’s Head of Sculpture Ivor Roberts-Jones. Photo by Eluveitie – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

It was the worst day of their lives.

That was the sense of emotional and professional disaster for Goldsmiths Art School alumni Graham and Kathleen Sutherland in 1954.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill had sent round his official limousine with a letter furiously rejecting the portrait of him that Graham had been commissioned by Parliament to paint.

Winston had thundered:

…there will be an acute difference of opinion about this portrait…it will bring an element of controversy into a function that was intended to be a matter of agreement between the Members of the House of Commons where I have lived my life … the painting, however masterly in execution, is not suitable…

This was Parliament’s gift to celebrate the eightieth birthday of Britain’s war-time leader between 1940 and 1945.

Its unveiling a few days later in Westminster Hall would be another catastrophic humiliation for the Sutherlands; this time played out live on BBC television and reported in newsreel cinemas.

The irascible statesman, having been persuaded to avoid publicly rejecting the gift, used sarcasm to twist the knife into the portraitist he believed had made him look like a decrepit old man:

…the portrait [turning to look at it] is a remarkable example of modern art. [Haughty laughter as well as applause] It certainly combines force and candour. These are qualities which no active member of either House can do without or should fear to meet.



Further Pathe footage of Winston Churchill’s Westminster Hall 80th birthday ceremony 1954. Click through to view.

The tragedy of this event has been the subject of a book and a high profile television documentary series written and presented by the historian Simon Schama and, more recently, an entire episode of the Netflix television drama series on Queen Elizabeth II, The Crown.

Graham and Kathleen met each other when they were art students at Goldsmiths College between 1921 and 1926.


The Blomfield block built with funds provided by the Goldsmiths Company between 1905 and 1907 for the Art               School where Graham Sutherland and his future wife Kathleen Barry were students in the early 1920s.

Their encounter at Goldsmiths is one of many romantic and charming love stories in the history of the College.

At first they would simply gaze at each other in wonderment during life drawing classes unable to say a word.

In July 1921 the ‘chat-up’ ritual involved passing onto her a written invitation to the Diaghilev ballet.

It was not until the rendez-vous at Charing Cross station that they actually exchanged words for the first time.

Kathleen recalled:

I remember I was very surprised at the timbre of his voice, being so high and light, like the Duke of Windsor’s. It was all very agreeable, and he had to borrow half a crown to get his train home.


The third floor studios of the Blomfield Art School block where Graham and Kathleen studied etching and other crafts between 1921-6.

Graham Sutherland initially established his reputation as an engraver, sometimes earning £700 in sales in one year, but the international market collapsed with the 1929 Wall Street crash.

Goldsmiths’ Art School had begun in 1891 before it became part of the University of London in 1904-5.

The intention was that it should pursue the higher education of art, concentrating on painting, modelling and design and avoiding crafts ‘conducted along trade lines.’

One distinction of the school, according to a previous College historian A.E. Firth, is that for many years: ‘very few of its students took any examinations at all, or received any nationally recognised qualifications at the end of their courses.’

This was the case with Graham and Kathleen.

Pedestal Table in the Studio 1922 André Masson 1896-1987 Bequeathed by Elly Kahnweiler 1991 to form part of the gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, accessioned 1994

‘Pedestal Table in the Studio’ 1922 by André Masson 1896-1987 Bequeathed by Elly Kahnweiler 1991 to form part of the gift of Gustav and Elly Kahnweiler, accessioned 1994. Surrealism was not on the curriculum of Goldsmiths’ Art school between 1921-26.

During their time in New Cross, Graham recalled that if they sought inspiration from modernism or any pioneering ideas in contemporary art movements, they had to find that in the galleries and exhibitions of Central London and Paris:

While the teaching at the school was sound and was certainly practical, it was totally out of touch with the great European movements, then in full flower and moving to a climax. If Old Masters’ names were heard I do not remember much serious attempt being made to implant any real understanding of the significance of their work. Still less were we really taught to apply their example to our own work. I do not remember hearing a word about the Impressionists and on the subject of the Modern Movement there was profound silence.

It was in the 1930s that he developed as a painter mixing a continental modernist influence with the English romantic tradition.

His etching ‘Pastoral’ from 1930 was significantly referred to in the dialogue of the episode ‘The Assassins’ from the Netflix series ‘The Crown’.

The scriptwriter dramatised a sense of sympathy between Sutherland’s grieving over the death of his 2 month old son, John, in 1928, and Churchill’s profound sadness over the death of his 2 year old daughter Marigold in 1921.

It is suggested ‘Pastoral’ shares an undercurrent of personal despair with Churchill’s repeated attempts to paint the pond at his home in Chartwell.

Sutherland further developed his reputation as a home front War artist between 1939 and 1945.

He produced a haunting series of images of the impact of the blitz on domestic life that he titled ‘Devastation.’

Devastation, 1941: An East End Street 1941 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946

Devastation, 1941: An East End Street 1941 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946

Edward Lucie-Smith said that it was ‘Sutherland’s arresting image of the writer Somerset Maugham, painted in 1949, followed by the equally arresting full length [portrait] of Lord Beaverbrook, started in May, 1951, that made him the most sought after portrait painter of his time.’

Edward Sackville-West wrote the introduction of the Penguin Modern Painters’ volume on Graham Sutherland in 1944.


This placed him in the frame of leading contemporary artists and Sackville-West had no hesitation in comparing him with Henry Moore:

It is not only that, in excellence of technique and invention, they are two of the most significant artists of our time; they possess as well, the unmoved, receptive eyes which alone can reflect the tragic idyll of contemporary England.

Graham Sutherland was offered the Churchill commission because of the recommendation of the left-wing Labour MP Jennie Lee.

Somerset Maugham 1949 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by Lady John Hope 1951

Somerset Maugham 1949 Graham Sutherland OM 1903-1980 Presented by Lady John Hope 1951

And this may have been the source for what became the schism in what initially developed as a warm friendship between Winston and Clementine and Graham and Kathleen.

‘Wow’, wrote Lady Churchill to her daughter in law, ‘He is really a most attractive man.’

Winston relished being painted by a fellow artist and enjoyed joshing him over his socialist allegiance.

Sutherland recalled the Prime Minister throwing rather expensive food into the goldfish pond:

I would say ‘But the ones at the back aren’t getting anything at all, you’re just throwing it in the front,’ And he said: ‘Well, that’s life, you see. We can’t all be communists, we can’t all be equal.

There was always underlying tension beneath the surface of polite acquaintance.

Winston was so taken with Kathleen’s beauty that he expressed his intention and wish to paint her portrait.

He did not know that Graham was telling Kathleen that he thought Churchill’s paintings ‘very nearly first-rate, but had a touch of vulgarity about them.’

Sutherland failed to appreciate how important it was that Churchill needed to be a more consultative participant in the creation of his own portrait.

He felt excluded and discomforted by Sutherland’s determination to paint what he saw rather than how Churchill wished to be represented.

He would demand ‘How are you going to paint me? As a cherub, or a bulldog?’

In the end Sutherland saw more of the bulldog and lion at bay – a role that Churchill’s longstanding doctor Lord Moran tried to warn him was simply one of his performances.

One irony is that Winston’s defiant lion and bulldog pose was often captured by photographic and electronic media, and its inclusion in a 1965 film obituary by Pathe bears a striking resemblance to Sutherland’s controversial portrait.

Churchill as 'defiant bulldog' in 1965 Pathe obituary.

Churchill as ‘defiant bulldog’ in ‘This Was A Man’ Tribute To Sir Winston Churchill (1965) Pathe. Click through to see the film.

When Churchill finally got to see the painting, it was too late. What he saw was:

Sitting on a lavatory … It makes me look half-witted, which I ain’t … Here sits an old man on his stool, pressing and pressing … I look like a down-and-out drunk who has been picked out of the gutter in the Strand.

The guffaws of laughter cued by Churchill’s quip about modern art at Westminster Hall struck Graham Sutherland very hard.


BBC live footage shows Graham Sutherland holding his hand to his face in shock and mortification.

At the same time, a freeze-frame of Churchill’s countenance from the Pathe newsreel report indicates mischief and cunning.


Churchill’s revenge on Sutherland in public. Pathe newsreel film. Click through to view.

Admiration and dislike for the portrait divided along party lines.

Lord Hailsham was scathing:

I’d throw Mr Sutherland into the Thames. The portrait is a complete disgrace. It is bad-mannered.

Sutherland had to walk past official guests complaining that their beloved statesman had a dirty face and openly expressing their feelings that a terrible tribute had been paid to one of the country’s greatest men.

In another age Sutherland as the courtier artist who had outraged the King, would have found himself on the scaffold.

In the middle of the twentieth century such trial and retribution was more socio-psychological.

A storm was to rage in the pages of the national press and the Churchill family would decide that the painting, rather than its creator, should be consigned to a bonfire of retribution.

What was supposed to have been a gift to the nation that would hang at Westminster after Churchill’s death was crated up and destroyed on Clementine’s instructions within the year.

Winston and his loyal family were not in a position to appreciate that Graham Sutherland had created a beautiful expression of Churchillian indomitability, a symbol of an old country’s defiance of all the ravages of total war, and a presentation of the sturdy and independent humility of a democratic Parliamentarian in plain dress.

Like his series of paintings from the Blitz, this was the climax of the devastation of survival, and indeed, victory.

One of Sutherland’s biographers, Roger Berthoud concluded: ‘Graham had seriously underestimated his sitter’s sensitivity. As a portrait, his work was masterly; as a gift, it was a dismal failure.’

Graham Sutherland said it was vandalism, but Clementine had been determined to protect her husband’s feelings.

Simon Schama explained that Winston had not wanted a painted obituary.

He also said:

With the exception perhaps of the paintings of the Duke of Wellington by Goya and Thomas Lawrence, Sutherland accomplished the most powerful image of a Great Briton ever executed.

This national treasure now only exists as photographs and the sketches the artist made in its preparation.

There have been noble attempts to resurrect the painting.

Aster Crawshaw & Alistair Lexden have detailed the painstaking reproduction of Sutherland’s lost portrait by Albrecht von Leyden – a great admirer of both the original artist and subject.

Crawshaw and Lexden report that this courageous rebirth of Sutherland’s Portrait of Churchill was donated by von Leyden to the Carlton Club:

It was Albrecht’s hope that the portrait would be hung in the Club’s Churchill Room. A photograph, taken apparently soon after its arrival, shows the portrait on the wall of another room. It was then stored in the Club’s attic where it remains.

Many years later Lady Clementine Churchill would not be so hostile to another expression of a Goldsmiths artist’s imagination in the representation of her husband.


Architectural detail of the Arts building, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, completed in 1907 and situated at the back of Goldsmiths College main building.

Ivor Roberts-Jones (1913-96) was both a student and lecturer at Goldsmiths and eventually became head of sculpture in the college’s Art School (1964-78).

In 1971 he was invited along with eight other sculptors to submit maquettes for a potential statue of Churchill to be erected in Parliament Square.

None were thought suitable. Roberts-Jones and one other artist were asked to submit again.

This time round Ivor made two models.

One was similar to his first submission with Winston Churchill in robes.

The other was awarded the commission.

This was a more sturdy and pugnacious figure similar to the famous war-time photograph of the Prime Minister in long coat standing among the ruins of the House of Commons in May 1941 digging his cane into the rubble.

It replicated the image of Winston with his left hand thrust into his pocket, jaw jutting outwards, grim-faced and with a posture of steely defiance.

Roberts-Jones had made his reputation with sculptures of the prominent figure of Augustus John in his home town of Fordingbridge, and the reflective looking head of Yehudi Menuhin.


Ivor Roberts-Jones statue of Winston Churchill. Photo by David Holt from London, England – London 068 Parliament and Churchill, CC BY-SA 2.0

The Churchill statue, cast in bronze, cost £30,000, and met the full approval of Lady Clementine who enthusiastically unveiled it with the Queen in 1973 at its prominent position in Parliament Square facing Big Ben.

Unlike Sutherland’s infamous painting, this impressive public work of art by a Goldsmiths artist has survived.

However, it might be argued that rioting in Central London on May Day 2000 challenged the dignity of Churchill’s stature when its head was dressed with a green mohican of turf cut from the grass in the square.

The figure was also made to look as though blood was dripping from its mouth and graffiti was sprayed on the plinth.

A student from Cambridge, studying English and European literature, was jailed for 30 days.

He said he wanted to express a challenge to an icon of the British Establishment, but the Magistrate told him the statue symbolised to many people the war effort and the struggle against the Nazis.

Ten years later the statue plinth was subject to further defacement in student protests covered by the media.

These events are a reminder that public art will always be a matter of politics as well as culture.

At Goldsmiths art, politics, culture and society have frequently been an enduring combustion of controversy and protest.

And we are left with the poignant legend of the finest portrait of a British leader ever painted not surviving the conflagration.

By Professor Tim Crook, Goldsmiths historian


Anon, ‘Sculptor for Churchill’, London: Illustrated London News, page 12, 27th March 1971

Berthoud, Roger, Graham Sutherland: A Biography, London: faber & faber, 1982

Chesterman, Ross, Golden Sunrise: The Story of Goldsmiths’ College, 1953-1974, Durham: The Pentland Press, 1996

Crawshaw, Aster & Lexden, Alistair, ‘Homage to a Hero and a Masterpiece: The Destruction and Rebirth of Sutherland’s Portrait of Churchill’, London: The London Magazine, pages 25-42, June & July, 2016

Dymond, Dorothy ed., The Forge: The History of Goldsmiths’ College 1905-1955, London: Methuen & Co., 1955

Firth, A. E., Goldsmiths’ College: A Centenary Account, London: The Athlone Press, 1991

Lucie-Smith, Edward, ‘A Visionary At The Tate’, Illustrated London News, pages 64-5, 1st May 1982.

Sackville-West, Edward, Graham Sutherland, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1944

Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation through Its Portraits, London: Viking, 2015

That’s So Goldsmiths, a new history of the university is being researched and written by Professor Tim Crook.